Right now, Zaarly co-founder Bo Fishback is living that part of the dream every entrepreneur hopes for, having launched a company that – at least in its infancy – is rising like a rocket.
Zaarly is a buyer-led marketplace, sort of a reverse eBay or Craigslist, and a hand-held replacement for those anemic "Wanted" sections in the classifieds.
It launched just seven weeks ago and it works like this:
Once upon a New Year's Eve, after StumbleUpon founder and CEO Garrett Camp dropped $800 on three cab rides, he decided there had to be a better way to get a ride when you really needed one.
He started Uber, a marketplace that connects you via an iPhone or android app with your own private driver. That may sound simple enough but take a peek under the hood, and it turns out be one gigantic math problem, says Ryan Graves, Uber's VP of Operations.
"A lot goes into matching drivers with riders," he told me, "and we measure everything. After someone opens the app, how often do they refresh the screen? How fast does the driver respond? How accurate is his ETA?"
Using GPS, Uber's system identifies the closest on-duty driver to where the rider's location. The driver has 15 seconds to respond. "Drivers love it," says Graves, "because it means less time with an empty backseat. When they're empty they are treating the Uber app like it's hot."
The San Francisco Bay Area may be the global center of technology entrepreneurism, but not every big idea originates here, of course, although most do seem to find their way here sooner or later.
That's the case with Formspring.me, the social network that helps people find out more about each other and themselves by asking and answering questions.
"It's a vehicle for self-discovery and also for self-expression, says CEO Ade Olonoh, the soft-spoken computer scientist who started Formspring in Indianapolis late in 2009 and moved the company to SoMa last year.
Few people are better situated to evaluate the current tech boom than Harjeet Taggar, a partner at Y Combinator, which twice a year, invests a small amount of money (~$20k) in dozens of promising startups from all over the country.
The startup teams move to Silicon Valley for three months, during which YC works with them to get their companies into a position where they can appeal to investors at Demo Day, when a bunch of big-time investors show up.
During the past few funding cycles, Taggar told 7x7 that he has noticed a definite pattern.
When it comes to a legacy technology that badly needs to be disrupted, it's hard to imagine a better example than the college textbook.
Students have to lug these anachronisms around in backpacks, only to read a chapter here and there as assigned by their professors. New editions appear every two or three years, rendering the older editions essentially worthless.
Second-hand bookstores do a thriving business on campuses as students try to stay within their budgets. Book-sharing, renting, and lending as well as illegal copying all occur as well.
A professor trying to teach from a core textbook in many subjects often finds it resembles the Winchester Mystery House, with chapters added on willy-nilly to a structure that originated many editions in the past, often decades ago.
The Brothers Morin — Jeff and Dan — as business partners fit together like peanut butter and jam, which is a good thing because the company they've built, Outgoing.me, organizes dinners for people with shared interests to meet up and talk.
This Thursday night, for example, at the Ironside, there are still a few seats left for a chat with Dan Nguyen-Tan of Public Bikes, where the conversation will revolve around cycling and high-end design. But that's just one of six to seven dinners each week organized by the Morins and their team around themes ranging from nonprofits to photography, wine tasting, hiking and running.
"We're about helping people, especially people new to the city, to meet other interesting people like them," says Jeff Morin. "It can be hard to meet anyone outside of your workplace at first. This beats going to the bars alone on a Friday night."
The CEO of Salon.com, Richard Gingras, held an emotional "all-hands" meeting with his staff today to tell them he is resigning, effective July 8th, to become global head of news products for Google.
Over the past two years, Gingras has retooled the San Francisco-based quality content site into a leaner operation with significantly higher traffic, but still has not been able to propel the company to profitability.
Since its founding in 1995 (Disclosure: I worked as a consultant with the founding team), Salon has consistently provided high-quality, award-winning coverage of politics, entertainment and the arts, but it has never reached the break-even point financially.
By 2001, writer, educator and entrepreneur Robert Romano had already developed and sold a successful educational software company when he refocused his attention on raising his kids and writing a novel.
Meanwhile, as any parent can attest, the technological environment our kids are growing up in is radically disrupting the way they perceive the world around them, and changing the way they learn.
With his background in literature and writing, Romano found it difficult to see his son put off his summer reading (which included Walden) in favor of movies and video games until it was almost time to go back to school.
So he decided to try and do something about it. The result is a brand new educational product called StudySync, which is, in essence, a collaborative social learning tool that uses high-end videos and other interactive multimedia features to make books like the 19th-century classic by Thoreau more accessible to a 21st-century kid on his iPhone.
Clustered around South Park in Soma are hundreds of companies in the forefront of the city's latest tech boom, occupying blocks where disruptive innovation has been a way of life for decades.
Just a few doors down from the old 70s Rolling Stone office on Third Street, for example — and across the street from where HotWired aka Wired Digital operated in the 90s — sits the Founders Den, a shared office space and private club for serial entrepreneurs.
Co-founder Jason Johnson, at 40 himself a serial entrepreneur with four startups in his past, had left his job at Dolby Labs in spring 2010 and was working out of his home on Potrero Hill, when he realized he missed the comraderie of hanging out with his former colleagues and geeks. So he sent out an email inquiring to a bunch of them whether anyone would like to share some office space with him downtown.
The response was positive and immediate, and three of them became his co-partners in launching Founders Den this past January. The well-designed space does not serve as an incubator, or a mentoring lab, but as a co-working environment for those companies with seed funding but not yet ready to get their Series A round of funding.
You know that the number of startups has reached a critical mass of sorts when academic studies start appearing in an attempt to document the "science" of entrepreneurship, as opposed to its "art."
Another way to put it might be "data replacing anecdotes."
Which brings us to the recent study called the Startup Genome Report: Cracking the Code of Innovation, coauthored by a team of professors from Stanford and UC Berkeley.
The report was based on surveys of over 650 Internet startups and identified at least 14 key factors that help determine success, including the finding that balanced teams of one business founder and one technical founder raise 30 percent more money, experience almost three times greater user growth, and are less likely to scale "prematurely" than unbalanced teams.
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